Microsoft doesn't want you to see ads that slam Windows 95 -- even though it created the ads.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Windows 95, Windows 2000 and the little secret Microsoft doesn't want you to know

April 8, 2001

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2001, The Syracuse Newspapers

   Did you hear about the new Ford? It gets 135 miles per gallon, tops out at 187 miles per hour, is the safest car ever tested by the government, looks like a million dollars and has every other Ford beat in that one area all of us really care about -- reliability. And it doesn't cost much more than a regular Ford.
   Never heard about it? Maybe that's because Ford has decided not to sell it to consumers. Ford has been selling this new model only to professional mechanics, writers in the automotive press and a few high-roller executives. Ford has never even advertised this car in newspapers or magazines and refuses to run ads on radio and TV.
   In other words, Ford doesn't want you and me to know about this car. If we did, we might not want to buy all those regular Ford models. If we knew that something better was available, we might not put up with our ordinary vehicles.
   Hold it! Stop the music! Rewind the tape! I must offer my apologies to Ford Motor Co.
   I made all this up. There's no such model. Ford wouldn't do that. GM wouldn't do that. Nor would Honda or Toyota or any other automobile manufacturer.
   Nobody would do that, right?
   Listen carefully. Somebody would, indeed, do that. But not Ford or Toyota or Honda.
   Microsoft, the company behind the huge Windows monopoly, is doing just this sort of thing. Crazy as it may seem, Microsoft has created a nearly bulletproof version of Windows and has hidden it away from the prying eyes of consumers.
   This new and vastly improved version of Windows runs for weeks or even months without needing to be rebooted. It can do dozens of things at once without running out of memory. It takes passwords very seriously and can keep junior or sis from using the family computer without authorization. This version of Windows is well known to people who run the computer departments of large businesses. It's a fact of life to people who write about computers. But Microsoft is keeping it secret from consumers.
   The new version is called Windows 2000. It's not the same as another new version of Windows you might have heard about called Windows Me.
   If you buy a new PC, it will come with Windows Millennium (Windows Me). This is a repackaged version of Windows 98. It's just as trouble-prone as all the previous versions of Windows. Like Windows 95 and Windows 98, Windows Me crashes when it gets confused and it has no way to deal with memory properly. (Like those other versions, Windows Me runs out of crucial "system resource" memory at 64 kilobytes. In other words, the effective memory limit for the most vital functions in Windows is 1/10th of 1 percent of the total memory in a typical computer.)
   Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me are unstable and unreliable. Microsoft knows this, and in fact the company advertises this. It has placed ads in the technical press -- magazines that consumers aren't ever likely to read -- showing the screen of a Windows 95 computer that has crashed alongside a message touting Windows 2000. If you want a computer that is prone to crashing, Microsoft is obviously saying, stick with Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows Me; if you want a computer that is reliable, switch to the "professional" version of Windows.
   It's great that Microsoft knows how to look failure squarely in the face without blinking. We made a bad version of Windows, the company is telling technical readers, and now we have a much better version.
   But I find it bizarre that Microsoft refuses to tell you that. It seems insane that Microsoft went to all the trouble of creating Windows 2000 and then told PC manufacturers they could not sell it to consumers.
   The fiction that Microsoft hoped all of us in the press would fall for is that Windows 2000 is a "business" operating system, and so consumers have no reason to use it and no reason to know about it.
   Sadly, a lot of my fellow journalists in the computer press fell for this. Good people who should know better are failing to tell you what you need to know.
   Microsoft won't change, but we can. If you want a new PC with a better version of Windows, buy a PC with Windows 2000 already installed. You might have to pretend that you're buying it for a business. If you want to get rid of the troublesome version of Windows you are now running, buy a copy of Windows 2000 and install it. (Yes, you can buy it -- $200 to $300, depending on whether you get an upgrade or full version. Just ask for it.)
   If you're not in a hurry, you can also wait for Microsoft's successor to Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me. It's called Windows XP, and probably will be just as bulletproof as Windows 2000. You'll be able to buy it later this year.
   And if you'd rather not put up with any kind of Windows, you have two choices. You can switch to an Apple Macintosh (the iMac costs only $799 for an excellent basic model, and that includes the monitor and excellent support). Or you can load Linux on your PC alongside Windows or in place of Windows. Linux is very reliable, but it's harder to use than Windows.
   Even if you do nothing, you win. You know something Microsoft didn't want you to know. You'll be able to make decisions based on what you know, not on what you don't.
   And isn't that the way this is all supposed to work?